Exclusive: Bitmoji Creator Ba Blackstock On How “Bitmoji Became So Popular

By Emeric Brard
on 3 February 2020

Snapchat launched Bitmoji TV this month, the project which has long been in the works turns Snapchatters’ Bitmoji selves into short, satirical episodes representing different TV genres.

The first season contains 10 episodes of three-minute durations with new episodes of Bitmoji TV set to be released every Saturday until April, 2020.

Additionally, Snapchatters can interact with famous faces during these episodes including Randy Jackson (​American Idol​), Andy Richter, Jon Lovitz, and Riki Landhome.

To mark the launch, Women Love Tech interviewed Ba Blackstock – the creator and founder of Bitmoji – to learn more about how Bitmoji started and more details about Bitmoji TV.

What inspired you to create Bitmoji?

I’ve been making comics and cartoons since I was a kid, it’s always been an obsession of mine. My parents put me in animation classes when I was six, where I’d make stop-motion movies and flipbooks. In school I’d make comics starring my teachers and pass them around to my friends in class, often getting into trouble.

After high school, I made an 11-minute cartoon using traditional frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation. It took 3 years, and after that, I was kind of exhausted and decided that it would be easier to tell a story using fewer drawings by doing it as a comic. I started doing it as a stream-of-consciousness exercise, where I would scribble as many comics as fast as I could – and began to think about comics as a language, a uniquely powerful form of communication that combines text, illustration, symbols, and composition to convey a ton of information in a single image. Which made me think, what if people could speak in this language without having to draw at all?

So I gathered some super-smart friends – David Kennedy, Shahan Panth and Dorian Baldwin – and we created an online comic builder, as well as a character builder that enabled anyone to turn themselves into an expressive cartoon character and then create their own comics. We started a company and called it Bitstrips, launching our first website in 2008. This evolved through many iterations over several years – meanwhile, the rest of the world was realizing that they needed cartoons to improve the way they were communicating with text – ie emojis. So in 2014, we created Bitmoji, which turned your Bitstrips avatar into your own emoji, a visual identity that you can use to interact with your friends and family in a more personal and expressive way. This became a massive phenomenon and in 2016 we were acquired by Snap Inc.

Since then, we’ve been continuously expanding on what Bitmoji is and what you can do with it – from chat stickers to AR experiences, personalized comics, video games and now your own animated series, Bitmoji TV.

Can you explain the unique process of building a Bitmoji and establishing a digital identity?

We’re turning everyone in the world into living cartoon characters by combining classic techniques of comic illustration and animation with cutting-edge technology. To do this we need to create an endless library of facial features, hairstyles, clothing options and more – and we also have to make sure they are incredibly expressive. It’s not enough that your Bitmoji looks like you, it has to convey your personality. So for every facial feature, there’s a wide range of expressions, with nearly infinite combinations. It’s a huge undertaking that will never be complete – so we’re always working to make it better.

“Our vision was to reinvent comics as a popular form of communication.”

Ba Blackstock, CEO and co-founder of Bitmoji

Beyond the avatar itself, Bitmoji is a communication medium – so we also think deeply about how people talk to each other in everyday conversations, and how to best convey a wide range of very nuanced emotions and expressions. We have an amazing team of artists who sketch out thousands of designs for Bitmojis to share in chat. Those sketches get polished and turned into templates that are each their own little work of art, that stars your own Bitmoji.

Tell us more about the importance of digital self-expression and how this is translated with Bitmoji on Snapchat

From the very beginning of Bitstrips, our mission was to empower people to use the language of cartoons to better express themselves. Personally, my favourite form of self-expression was always making comics, so it was thrilling to find a way to share that superpower with the world. Our vision was to reinvent comics as a popular form of communication.

While this began with a very specific focus on comics, over time the way people were communicating – and even existing – via their phones was evolving. More and more we were talking in text, more and more we were seeing our friends through our phones. And so it became more and more important to have a version of yourself that could live on your phone, that could really represent you and enable you to express yourself in an authentic way. By moving our avatars from comics into people’s conversations, Bitmoji became an essential part of daily life for millions of people. More than that, it’s become a way for people to be more present with each other and feel more connected, even when they’re physically apart.

Bitmoji TV
Bitmoji Creator Ba Blackstock explains how “Bitmoji became an essential part of daily life for millions of people.”

Snapchat has always been about creativity, self-expression, and visual communication, so it was a natural fit for Bitmoji. Through our integration with Snapchat, we’ve been able to expand Bitmoji into a multitude of new experiences like geofilters, AR lenses and videogames, which gives people more ways to express themselves, be creative and stay connected with their friends.

Are you able to share on the future of Bitmoji?

It’s been an amazing evolution which keeps going and going, with more surprises in store. Last year we introduced a new kind of comic strip called ‘Bitmoji Stories’ in the Discover section of Snapchat. We publish three bite-sized episodes every week, and it’s proven to be incredibly popular – since we launched it, over 130 million people have read Bitmoji Stories.

This year, we’re taking this concept of personalized entertainment a giant leap further. I’m very excited to share that we’re launching Bitmoji TV, which is a fully animated show starring your own Bitmoji. Starting this February, we’re bringing back Saturday morning cartoons with 10 episodes airing weekly. Each episode is between 3-5 minutes long and makes your Bitmoji the main character, alongside celebrity guest stars like Andy Richter, Jon Lovitz and Riki Lindhome, to name a few. Bitmoji TV is going live on February 1, 2020, only on Snapchat.

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